Courtesy of Tall Travis

February 20, 2023

It’s Music for Chickens

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Some indie music is made in bedrooms, but Tall Travis’s new EP Chicken Music is made for a barn. On Jan. 5, the Vermont-based band released their third project, a quick 19-minute listen that is crunchy and energetic. The six-song project starts strong and finishes honestly, putting forth an effort that may not be groundbreaking but is astonishingly authentic.

Tall Travis originated at the University of Vermont’s folk music club in January 2021. One of its six members is Elliot Walsh ’24, a Cornell student who collaborates with the band from Ithaca during the semester. In an interview with me, Walsh shared, “We started doing [the project] with sort of the intention of doing a slightly more folk-punk thing. Previous records had leaned more heavily on soft indie folk songs, and we wanted to do some faster stuff.”

You might be wondering what the folk-punk genre is, or, like me, love folk and punk but hadn’t yet heard of the two together. Walsh explained that the genre is “up-tempo high-energy music with traditional instrumentation. […] I feel like it inspires a lot of honesty in songwriting.” The project is indie not in a pretentious way, but rather feels open, fun and grounded. “It’s sort of fun to listen to a band or a song and be like, ‘yeah I could do this,’ but it still works,” said Walsh.

The EP’s first song “Alley-Oh” establishes the project’s upbeat acoustic style, with a rejuvenated bluegrass sound that reflects its influence in the traditional instrumentals. One of the band’s inspirations for its folk-punk genre is the Mountain Goats, an indie folk band whose song “No Children” might be familiar (“You are coming down with me / hand in unlovable hand”). The EP layers casual lyrics in a speak-singing style that is evocative of the Mountain Goats. 

“Victim Vibes” continues a relaxed style of singing layered over tight instrumentals, which is definitely the band’s strength. Each traditional instrument — ukulele, guitar, bass, washboard, fiddle and trumpet — is powerful on its own, and they combine together to evoke a close-knit group’s folk-punk vision. The band explores the depth of its sound in “The Tortoise and the Hare,” which builds up to an epic instrumental peak that takes me out of my surroundings and makes me yearn for summer in rural New England. 

The lyrics in final song “Vampires and Poseurs” showcase the band’s range between casual and deeper lyrics that touch something real in the listener. The opening lines “I don’t believe in Heaven / I do believe in Hell” seemed plain to me at first, until the singer continued, “It’s down the street from here / we both lived there for years,” surprising me with its depth and intimacy. The personal lyrics and use of the “I” are reminiscent of Noah Kahan’s poetic and personal song-writing style. Like Kahan, Tall Travis hinges on strong details with simple language: “We burn the calendars for warmth / and the alarm clocks just for fun.” 

Tall Travis is upfront with who they are, and the essence of their eclectic group of musicians is on the table in Chicken Music. “The name Chicken Music came from, I think it was a joke someone had of just, ‘What genre do you play?’ ‘Oh it’s chicken music. It’s music for chickens. It’s just that vibe,’ ’’ explained Walsh. They’re not trying to be anything other than who they are: People who love to play music, with a particular appreciation for chickens and traditional instrumentation. 

Although the folk-punk genre is more niche, Walsh gives the advice for anyone interested in dipping their toes into the folk-punk music scene to “Just go out, play shows, make connections.” Tall Travis has plans to release a new full album hopefully in late spring, and they also plan to play a show in Ithaca in April, so be on the look out for Tall Travis this spring.

Kiki Plowe is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].